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Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

John 14:1-14 This is my favorite hymn.  Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love. This is my favorite hymn… because it’s about wandering. And oh – do I like to wander.  My soul finds peace when my body is in motion, whether it’s hiking miles down the trail or jogging loops around town.  Andrews UMC has an indoor walking track; when I take my prayer time off my seat and and a’ wandering up there, I pray for three – five – ten times as long. “Come Thou Fount” isn’t about that kind of wandering, though. It’s the story of a man named Robert Robinson (1735-1790) – but it starts when he was just a boy.  His dad died when he was young and his mother couldn’t control his wildness.  She sent him off to London with hopes he’d learn the trade of barbering and make a decent life for himself.  Instead, Robinson wandered off that intended path to learn the trades of heavy drinking and gang life. One day when he was 17 (or so the story goes) Robinson and his buddies were drunk and silly and decided to have fun seeing a fortune teller.  Things turned serious for Robinson, though.  Something about the encounter seriously bothered him.  It seems to be this moment when he first suspects that he had wandered far astray, in a bad direction. This...
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Psalm 145 Can you name the first hymn in our United Methodist hymnal? It’s not placed there by chance.  “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” sits right at the front because it’s an important part of our Methodist story.  Its lyrics are a beautiful expression of gratitude for all God has done for us through Christ. But when you look carefully at this hymn… it doesn’t really make sense.  And that’s part of what makes it so powerful. It all started on May 21, 1738.  Charles Wesley – brother to John and writer of over 6,000 hymns – was sick and stuck in bed.  Such moments of forced rest provide good time for deep reflection, and before long Charles began to feel a “strange palpitation of heart.”  It wasn’t a symptom of his physical illness – it was a sign of his spiritual healing!  “I believe!  I believe!” he declared.  Charles had found peace with God! Just three days later brother John had a similar experience.  He was at a meeting on Aldersgate Street and listening to Martin Luther’s “Preface to the Epistle of the Romans” being read aloud (also a period of forced rest? Sorry, Lutheran friends – that’s no page-turner).  Lo and behold, John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed.”  He knew, at last, that he did trust in Christ alone for salvation! These were big-time powerful moments!  They were write-a-song-about it powerful:  Charles would craft “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” to mark the one-year anniversary of his conversion experience.  They were also gotta-tell-my-mom-about-this powerful:  the Wesley brothers wrote home to share the great...

God of the Ages

Luke 11:5-13 Daniel Crane Roberts wrote one hymn.  Just one. Daniel Roberts did a lot in his 66 years (1841 – 1907).  He was an Episcopal priest.  He was also a private in the Civil War, a president of the New Hampshire historical society, a chaplain of the Grand Army of the Republic, and a member of the Knights Templar.  In other words, he was an active member of the church and an active citizen of the United States. Maybe this is where his one hymn might have something to say to those of us who also have a foot in both worlds.  I am a Christian, born and bred.  I am an American, born and bred.  If I wrote a hymn that reflected both identities… would it sound anything like this? Well – probably not.  I’m not a musician, and I don’t have much in common with this man from the 19th century.  But this week I have more in common with Daniel Roberts than on any other week of the year.  It’s the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and this same holiday was the occasion for Roberts to write “God of the Ages” (except for Roberts it was a sweet centennial, back in 1876). So let’s take a look at this hymn.  142 years later, does it tell us anything about being a Christian and an American? God of the ages, whose almighty hand leads forth in beauty all the starry band of shining worlds in splendor through the skies, our grateful songs before thy throne arise.  As someone who’s fond of backpacking and snowboarding and the...

Moderation in all Things?

2 Corinthians 5:6-17 I just got back from a week of backpacking with Wilderness Trail – an experience that always teaches me things.  I learn things about creation, like:  you can use the bark of a birch tree as kindling to start a fire.  I learn things about God, like:  that “peace that passes understanding” is a real thing, evidenced by feeling strangely peaceful while your stuff is getting soaked in a rainstorm.  And I learn things about myself, like: I’m too attached to my phone. This hit me on the first day.  We got to our first intersection, which meant we’d stand around for just a few moments getting out water bottles and waiting on each other.  Recognizing that 60 seconds of lag time, I began to move my arm toward my back right pocket. In the middle of the wilderness, I was reaching for my non-existent phone. I made that ridiculous, almost-unconscious move for my phone a couple times on the first day.  But after that the backpacking experience worked its magic.  My mind let go of my cell phone (and everything else) and thought mostly about the uphill climb or the wonder of fireflies or how good mac-n-cheese can taste when you’re really hungry.  I laughed and struggled and reflected with the amazing youth and adults in our group.  For the better part of a week, I was mostly uncomfortable but also mostly peaceful and content. On Friday morning we loaded up our van and headed back into civilization.  My phone sprung back to life as we returned to cell service.  Little red dots told me...

Sacred Heart of Jesus

Matthew 22:37-40 I really like Jesus – you may already know that about me.  What you might not know is that I also really like art; I went to a high school where you had something like majors, and art was mine.  A few years ago I came across something that merged these two loves of mine.  It’s a Catholic tradition called the “Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pompeo Batoni, 1767Given that I have some training in both Christianity and art, naturally I had a very profound first impression to this particular genre of artwork: “EW!” The Sacred Heart of Jesus can’t be traced back to a clear starting point.  There was Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1600s, who saw Jesus and heard him speak:  “Behold the Heart that has so loved men. …Instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of humankind) only ingratitude.”  There was Saint Bonaventure in the 1200s who wrote, “Who is there who would not love this wounded heart? Who would not love in return Him, who loves so much?”  And long before that, there was a Christ who died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice; the one who was pierced in his side (all the way to the heart?); the one who loved us enough to give his whole life for us. Out of all that comes the Sacred Heart of Jesus – and its corresponding artwork. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, Josef Mehoffer, 1911But it’s strange, right?  Most of these are not cartoonish, Valentine’s Day hearts.  They’re biological and bloody and graphic.  They have arteries that should...

A Minister’s Job

Over the past month or so we’ve been talking about how we are all ministers.  I hope you’re convinced by now, that you – every one of you – is included in that call. But – to do what?  What is a minister’s purpose? In today’s Scripture, Jesus explains that purpose.  Just before he leaves them for the very last time, he says: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). Ministers witness to Jesus Christ.  They know something about Jesus and tell others about it.  They invite others to come and see for themselves.  This call to be Jesus’ witnesses is mandatory, and it is huge in scope.  There’s no corner of the world that God doesn’t care about.  God wants everyone to know about the grace and forgiveness and new life made possible through Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you – but that’s a completely overwhelming task.  It feels out of my league – like someone saying, “Cook a five-course gourmet meal,” or, “Paint a ceiling like the Sistine Chapel.”  Thankfully we don’t do this alone.  Remember?  We’re a part of the body of Christ.  We are all required to be witnesses, but we are all witnesses together. Today in church we got to hear from one group who takes this mandatory and huge commission seriously.  A local representative of Gideons International...